Hiram Parks Bell: Education, Admission to the Bar, and Marriage
The following is Chapter 4 of Hiram Parks Bell’s Men and Things:
“At the age of twenty years, with an attendance altogether at school of six months---four at the old field of the first grade and two of the second grade, I left home with the blessing of my parents and entered on the battle of life. My wardrobe was such as my dear, good mother could provide. I had a purpose (this was all), owned no property, did not have one cent of money; bought books and secured board and tuition on credit; and entered the academy at Cumming in February, 1847. It should be stated that my school instruction had been supplemented by studying during the long winter nights with my brothers and sisters. We had many and most interesting ‘spelling bees,’ and recitals, in English grammar and geography. I made it a point to read every book upon which I could put my hands; and in 1845, I had the advantage of very superior instruction from my brother, for five weeks, who taught near Sheltonville, Georgia, the odor of whose lessons has lingered for threescore years in the community ‘like the fragrance of roses that have once been distilled.’ The principal of the Academy, Joseph K. Valentine, was a professional teacher, in middle life; a fine scholar and a gentleman. He was so thorough in the Greek and Latin languages that he read the textbooks in the course as promptly and with as much facility as he read English. The students in constant attendance numbered about one hundred, half of whom, approximately, were grown. It was a mixed school. In arranging the classes, it was my good fortune to be assigned to a class of five grown girls, in three or four studies. In preparing the lessons in these studies, we occupied seats together. Being further advanced, especially in English grammar, than any of them, I was helpful to them in that study. I had parsed most of Milton’s Paradise Lost and when surrounded by this coterie of beautiful girls, I felt as if I were in ‘paradise found.’ One of the most interesting and valuable lessons was the ‘Heart’ spelling lesson. The class was a large one, more than 20 of the grown students. The book used was Town’s Speller and Definer, a book something over 300 pages, containing the words in most common use, with accurate definitions. The first thing after the noon recess was this lesson, which had been carefully studied during the recess. The class stood in a line; the teacher called the word, and the class spelled and defined it. At the formation of the class, each student took his place at the nearest point at which he reached it; before the end of the second lesson the five girls and myself were the first six in the class, counting from the head---four of them above and one below me. We stayed there for one year---not one of the six missed the spelling or defining of a word in the book for that period. These girls were: Virginia M. Lester, Martha Erwin, Josephine Strickland, Virginia Sims, and Mary Sims. They all had been trained by practical, sensible, good parents; were all of nearly the same age and size, were social chums, ardent personal friends, free from malignity and envy, bright as stars, and animated with ambition and rivalry to excel each other. A year’s class and social association with them failed to discover the slightest defect or weakness in the character in any one of them. The respect, confidence and friendship of all of them, and the priceless love of one of them, have been the blessing and solace of my life. And now, the precious memory of them comes to my spirit, sweet and sad, as the tremulous echoes of a nightingale’s dying song.
“Within three months from the day I entered that class, Virginia M. Lester and myself were engaged to be married so soon as I finished my education and was admitted to the bar. As unwise and reckless as this engagement may have then seemed, time and trial vindicated its wisdom. Her bright smile, like light on ‘Memnon’s Lyre’ set my heart to throbbing with the music of love that was so resistless as a decree of destiny. She was in the bloom of young womanhood. The ease and grace of her pose, the simple elegance of her manner, and the beauty of her face and figure would have delighted an artist as a model for his masterpiece. Added to these charms was a spirit radiant with the light of hope and joy, and a heart, pure as love and faithful as truth. For thirty-seven years she made more than one heart contented and happy and one home a paradise of peace and love. She merited the highest eulogium ever pronounced on woman---that which came from the lips of the Nazarene, when he said of Mary of Bethany: ‘She has done what she could.’ I loved her, living, with an ardor for which language has no expression; I mourned her, dead, with an anguish for which earth has no consolation.
“Josephine Strickland married John B. Peck of Atlanta, Georgia and was the first of the class to pass away. Mary Sims married Lewis D. Palmer, now of Nashville, Tennessee. She and Virginia M. Lester died on the same day, April 30, 1888. Virginia Sims married Mr. Backman---both are dead. Martha Erwin, who married Mr. W.H. Camp, now of Floyd County, Georgia, is the only survivor of this class of splendid girls and noble women. She is now in ‘the sere and yellow leaf,’ but possesses all the sweetness, gentleness, modesty, and sly humor of the long ago.
“My studies were grammar, geography, philosophy, chemistry, logic, rhetoric, composition, history, and the Latin language. In spare hours I read Plutarch’s Lives, Irving’s Life of Columbus, Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico, Seneca’s Philosophy, and Locke on The Understanding. I pursued these studies in this school during the year 1847 and the greater portion of 1848. In 1849 I taught in the academy at Ellijay, Georgia and read law. I was admitted to the bar at Spring Place, Georgia on November 28, 1849, by Judge Augustus R. Wright, after an examination in open court of four hours, by a committee consisting of Judge W.H. Underwood, Judge Turner H. Trippe, Warren Akin, J.W. Johnson, Williaim Martin, and R.W. Jones. I entered upon the ordeal of that examination with a trepidation that makes me shiver to think of now, but my good angel was not nodding at his post; and it so happened that I did not fail to answer every question correctly. In pursuance of our engagement, Virginia M. Lester and myself were united in marriage in Cumming, Georgia on January 22, 1850. I taught that year in Ellijay and continued my study of law. In the latter part of that year, we settled in Cumming. I possessed only two things---the best of wives and the noblest of professions.
“On June 11, 1890, I was united in marriage to Miss Annie Adelaide Jordan, in Eatonton, Georgia at the home of her aunt, Mrs. M.L. Reid. She was the daughter of Warren H. Jordan of Noxubee County, Mississippi---a native Georgian---and her mother was Miss Julia L. Hudson of Eatonton, Georgia---both of whom died before she was grown. She is an accurate scholar and an accomplished pianist. Her sweet and gentle ministries of love and devotion to me, in joy and sorrow, in health and in sickness, have imposed upon me an obligation of gratitude I can never recompense.